This Commons Library briefing paper summarises the main developments regarding the process of devolution of powers to local government within England since 2014. It covers the devolution deals agreed between the Government and local areas up to July 2016, including the powers to be devolved, the procedures required for devolution to take place, and reactions to the policy from the local government and policy-making worlds.Jump to full report >>
This note addresses the debate around devolution of power to local government in England only. Local government is a devolved matter in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The first ‘devolution deal’ was announced by the Government and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority in November 2014. In advance of the 2015 general election, further deals followed with Sheffield (December 2014) and West Yorkshire (March 2015).
As of March 2016, devolution deals with twelve areas have been agreed.
Discussions have also taken place on further devolution to Greater London. Table 1 in the PDF sets out the details of the devolution deals agreed as of March 2016, including links where available. Details of the local authorities involved in each devolution deal area can be found in Appendix 2 of the PDF.
At the time of writing, no hard information is available about the likely effect on the local devolution agenda of leaving the European Union.
George Osborne, as Chancellor, was closely associated personally with the agenda. It is not clear whether the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, will maintain support for the agenda within Government. Lord (Jim) O’Neill of Gatley has indicated that he would leave the Government if he perceived that the agenda was no longer being treated seriously.
Conversely, Greg Clark, the previous Secretary of State for communities and local government, claimed that he had “argued successfully … for English local government to be part of the negotiations on the terms of our exit”.
A number of sector representatives, as well as Mr Clark, have argued for a “radically expanded role for local government” in the wake of leaving the EU.
European Union structural funds have formed a major element of many devolution deals. It is not yet clear if and when structural funds will cease to be paid to UK localities. A number of sector representatives have argued that, if the funds are withdrawn, Government should make good the deficit for the 2014-20 programming period.
The Greater Manchester Agreement set out proposed new powers for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). A directly-elected mayor will be established for the whole Greater Manchester area.
The first mayoral election will take place in 2017, the next in 2020, followed by four-yearly terms. The elected mayor will receive the following powers and resources:
In the meantime, the GMCA itself has received the following additional powers and resources:
The new elected mayor will be subject to scrutiny by the existing scrutiny committee of the GMCA: the ‘GMCA Scrutiny Pool’, made up of 30 non-executive councillors drawn from the ten Manchester boroughs.
A second devolution deal for the Liverpool City Region was announced alongside the March 2016 budget.
The city region will take on the following additional responsibilities:
Liverpool will also pilot 100% retention of business rates revenue as of 1 April 2017, in advance of English local government as a whole retaining 100% of business rates revenue from 2020.
In December 2015 the Government agreed a series of pilots around health and social care collaboration with groups of London boroughs, in partnership with the Greater London Authority (GLA) and London CCGs.
NHS England and Public Health England are also fully involved. The London-based partners have also signed a London Health and Care Collaboration Agreement, committing them to joint working regarding health and care services.
A devolution deal with Cornwall was agreed in July 2015. The deal was agreed with Cornwall Council and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly NHS Trust. The deal does not require a combined authority or elected mayor to be established.
This is the only deal so far to be agreed with a single unitary authority: the powers to be devolved will be devolved to Cornwall County Council. The deal follows Cornwall Council’s publication of a document entitled The Case for Cornwall in March 2015.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority agreed a deal on 18 March 2015. The deal “sees the Combined Authority take further responsibility over skills, transport, employment, housing and business support”.
The devolution deals agreed to date can be characterised as consisting of a ‘menu with specials’. A number of items have been made available to most areas, but each deal also contains a few unique elements or ‘specials’ (typically consisting of commitments to explore future policy options).
The sections in the PDF outline the nature of the ‘menu’ powers that have been made available to most of these areas. The exact nature of the powers devolved can be seen in the deal documents.
The devolution deals agreed so far have many similarities in terms of powers to be devolved. The core powers devolved include the following:
The following information is also set out in the associated PDF:
The Commons Library has also published notes on: